6 Utmost Things about Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven”

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

by Jon Krakauer

Nikki’s Rating: 6 out of 10

Summary: In July 1984, a woman and her child were brutally murdered by two brothers who believed they were doing God’s work. Looking into the murders and what led these men to do it, Jon Krakauer discovers the violent history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With intensive research, Krakauer takes readers through this history and shows the dangers of fundamentalism of America’s fastest growing religion.

6 Utmost Things about Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Bias

Writing about religion is generally controversial as critics will either claim that the author is villainizing the faith or on the other extreme, prothetizing and only showing the positives. In his “Author’s Remarks”, Jon Krakauer not only shares his personal positive experiences with Mormons, he also includes his own theological frame of reference. While of course this does not absolve him of any biases, it does help readers to know where the author is coming from and to keep that in mind. In this readers opinion, in Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer did his job of giving the facts without having a personal agenda.

2. Educational

Under the Banner of Heaven was very educational. Krakauer doesn’t just focus on the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty but actually looks at the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While I had a basic understanding of Mormonism, Krakauer’s book gave so much more information about their beliefs, rituals, and church hierarchy. And of course, Under the Banner of Heaven includes the darker history of the violence within the Mormon church which I was completely ignorant of.

3. Bibliography

It is apparent that Krakauer did thorough and meticulous research for this novel as the bibliography included in Under the Banner of Heaven is extensive. This provides credence and support to his claims throughout the book.

4. Religion

Throughout Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer reminds readers that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not alone with its history of violence but practically every religion is guilty of having followers who use their beliefs to justify harming others. Under the Banner of Heaven was not written specifically to villainize Mormonism but to show the dangers that may occur when individuals turn to fundamentalism and become zealots, Krakauer just uses Mormonism as the example as that is what he was working on at the time. Krakauer brings up solid concerns and questions about the abuse and violence that can be justified in the name of God.

5. Criticism

At the back of the 2004 and onward editions of Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer includes an “Appendix” in the Anchor Edition. This includes a “response” to the book by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, authored by the high-ranking church official Richard Turley, as well as Krakauer’s response to this letter. In Krakauer’s response, he gracefully acknowledges mistakes that Turley points out that Krakauer made in the text about the Church but he also rebuttals many things that Turley criticized about Under the Banner of Heaven with sources to support his arguments.

6. Overall

Overall Under the Banner of Heaven was a thoroughly educational novel with an interesting premise. It was well researched and Krakauer included substantial evidence to the facts he presented. In the “Author’s Remarks”, Krakauer includes how he came to write Under the Banner of Heaven. Originally he was working on the interesting phenomenon of a critical, scientific mind coinciding with religious doctrine but his research led him down the road to looking at the Lafferty murders and other violent acts in Mormonism. Again, this was not a personal attack on the Church of Latter-day Saints but rather an intimate look at the dangers of fundamentalism in any religion.


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8 Idolized Things about Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

Nikki’s Rating: 8 out of 10

Summary: Beloved poet and author Maya Angelou takes us back to her childhood. Raised by her religious grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya endures abandonment, racism, and rape. But most importantly, this memoir is about how she overcame these and found hope, love, and herself through so many trials and tribulations.

8 Idolized Things about Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Writing

First and foremost, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is written beautifully, as is all Maya Angelou’s work. While I prefer her poetry, Angelou is a phenomenal author and writes eloquently with great description and a knack for using words effectively to capture emotions.

2. Pacing

Memoirs and/or biographies can be very dry and unengaging, just a statement of facts and dates without any real purpose or emotional connections. Thankfully, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings does not have this problem. Pacing throughout this memoir was good and each story was filled with emotional engagement that will draw readers in.

3. Racism

Obviously a great amount of Maya Angelou’s upbringing was overshadowed by racism being an African American woman. Angelou describes the experiences she had with racism and readers are able to feel the wrongness of such attitudes even when they were not meant to be malicious. Such as Angelou not being able to get emergency dental work done simply because she was “colored” or her boss calling Angelou by the wrong name simply because she didn’t want to take the time to say her real name. Racism is not about hurting others because of their color, it is about treating them differently because of their color.

4. Rape

Any woman who comes forward and tells her story of being raped is courageous beyond measure. While incredibly hard to read, Angelou’s experience of rape is shared by countless women and it is vital that she shared it. Obviously this trauma shaped who she was but more importantly, it may help other women to share their story or help them understand they are not alone and their feelings of shame, confusion, self-hatred, anger, despair, and/or fear are valid.

5. Humanity

While humanity is not exclusively all bad, the human race has done and continues to do some terrible shit. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Angelou paints the picture of both the good and bad aspects of humanity that she has seen in her life but one line that really resonated with me was:

“As a species, we were an abomination. All of Us.”

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6. Reading

Being an avid reader and loving to devour books, it is so meaningful when an author shares this enjoyment as well. And Angelou describes the magic and enchantment of reading so well:

“To be allowed, no, invited, into the private lives of strangers, and to share their joys and fears, was a chance to exchange the Southern bitter wormwood for a cup of mead with Beowulf or a hot cup of tea and milk with Oliver Twist.”

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7. Kindness

The balance to all the bigotry, hate, and trauma Angelou endured is the kindness she experienced from others. None more so than Mrs. Bertha Flowers who threw Angelou “a life line” and was able to draw Angelou out to talking again by giving Angelou special attention, inviting her inside her home, telling her about the power of words, and lending Angelou books to read aloud. This story was a perfect example of how a simple kindness can have a tremendous effect on others and ultimately the world. Like throwing a stone in a pond, one never knows how far out their ripple of kindness will flow.

8. Overcoming

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings does not progress too far into Angelou’s life but where it ends off is shortly after becoming the first African American employed on the San Francisco streetcars and this is no small achievement. In regards to overcoming so many obstacles and becoming a woman to be reckoned with, Angelou explains:

“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power. The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.”

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As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

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10 Brilliant Things about Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime”

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

by Trevor Noah

Nikki’s Rating: 10 out of 10

Summary: Literally born a crime, Trevor Noah explores his upbringing living in South Africa during apartheid. Being colored he never seems to fit in, Trevor is too black to be white and too white to be black. His coming of age story is touching, full of hardships and yet, unbelievably hilarious as Trevor Noah uses humor to remain resilient and portray the absurdity that humans can partake in.

10 Brilliant Things about Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Hilarious

Born a Crime was hilarious, like laugh-out-loud funny! Even though the book deals with some very heavy topics, Trevor Noah uses his humor effectively and allows the reader to really grasp the absurdity that can be life.

2. Honesty

One of the most effective things about Born a Crime is the brutal honesty Noah has. He doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat things or only portray his loved ones in a positive light. He is real, genuine, and straightforward no matter if it is good or bad.

3. South Africa

Learning about a different culture and place in the world is always worthwhile. Obviously with Trevor Noah being born and raised in South Africa, this is where Born a Crime takes place and while Noah is just a single person from this country, he does a great job of showing some of the country’s diversity and difference amongst its people.

4. Racism

Probably the most important subject in Born a Crime is that of racism. While one might assume that racism wouldn’t exist in a country that is majority black, colonialism has influenced all of Africa and has created huge discrepancies between races. These negative influences continue to have an impact today as Noah shows throughout his book.

5. Not Fitting In

While not many of us could claim they understand what it is like to be a colored kid growing up in apartheid South Africa, I think most people can relate to feeling like they don’t fit in. Noah paints such a powerful and heartbreaking portrayal of the hurt, confusion, and desire of wanting to belong.

6. Love

Throughout Born a Crime the reader can truly sense and feel the deep love and respect Trevor has for his mother and the unconditional love that his mother has for him. It is absolutely beautiful and resonates throughout the novel.

7. Shit

Intellectual and profound in many ways, Trevor is constantly reminding the reader that we are all just human, no better, no less, and the most memorable and hilarious way he reminds us of this is through his comments on shitting:

“It’s a powerful experience, shitting. There’s something magical about it, profound even. I think God made humans shit in the way we do because it brings us back down to earth and gives us humility. I don’t care who you are, we all shit the same. Beyoncé shits. The pope shits. The Queen of England shits. When we shit we forget our airs and our graces, we forget how famous or how rick we are. All of that goes away.”

8. Perseverance

Overcoming poverty, racism, and a bad childhood is never an easy endeavor. Coming back from being shot in the head seems nearly impossible and yet, these are the stories that Trevor Noah shares. The perseverance that him and his family have shown and continue to show is inspirational and leaves an overall sense of hope that is much needed in a world that is rampant with poverty, racism, abuse, violence, addiction, hatred, and ignorance.

9. Writing

Overall, Born a Crime was written well and a relatively quick read. Without sounding like a boring history book, Noah gave pertinent facts needed for readers to understand context and continued using humor and wit to bring light into some very dark situations.

10. Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah is a fantastic comedian and while I am unsure if he will ever write another book in the future at least we can enjoy him on “The Daily Show.”


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

Be Authentic. Be Unique. Be You.

6 Knowledgeable Things about Adam Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost”

King Leopold’s Ghost

by Adam Hochschild

Nikki’s Rating: 6 out of 10

Summary: A meticulously researched book focused on the exploitation of the Congo by King Leopold. A detailed account of key players and how abuse and slavery were able to continue for years with the world none the wiser. An honest, disturbing look at how colonialism continues to negatively impact the world today.

6 Knowledgeable Things about Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Educational

This book was a huge eye-opener. Nowhere in any formal education was there mention of the massacre that happened in the Congo, or anywhere else in Africa, due to colonialism. As in everywhere else in history, the victors write the history books and conveniently omit any negative images of themselves.

2. Citing Sources

Hochschild did his research diligently. His pages of notes and bibliography provide ample evidence and support of his narrative of what happened in the Congo under King Leopold’s rule.

3. Characters

In King Leopold’s Ghost, Hochschild does an amazing job of bringing his historical characters to life. He includes key life events to help readers understand their motivations and values that may have impacted their decisions. However, there is a lack of African voices and Hochschild makes note of this and gives valid reasons why this is so.

4. The Atrocities

While not giving traumatizing details, Hochschild clearly paints a picture of the horror many Congolese people experienced at the hands of their European suppressors. From forced slavery in terrible conditions to being used as target practice, King Leopold encouraged a holocaust in the name of greed.

5. Silence

King Leopold’s Ghost includes an explanation of how these atrocities were not made public and how King Leopold was able to manipulate others in power and the media to keep the silence of the massacre that was occurring.

6. Impact

One of the strongest points Hochschild presents in King Leopold’s Ghost is how colonialism continues to have an impact in the Congo today. Due to American and European investments, these governments continue interfering with democracy in the Congo going so far as in 1961, providing the means to assassinate Lumumba, an elected prime minister.


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

Be Authentic. Be Unique. Be You.